This Thanksgiving, be thankful for flaked corn and White Zinfandel.
Division By Zero
United we stand
Divided we fall
The mighty Bulldogs
Will conquer all!
Although I grew up in Emmons County, North Dakota, the nearest school system was across the state line in Pollock, SD, so I cheered for the Pollock Bulldogs (see above). Our most bitter rival was Herreid, a town some 16 miles to the east, where the players wore black and gold instead of blue and gold. We hated the Herreid Yellowjackets, possibly because as a slightly larger town, they frequently beat the crap out of our teams.
Now, Herreid and Pollock were far, far more alike than they were different: both small towns with populations well under 500, both primarily farming communities, both politically and religiously conservative. Herreid was a little more German and Catholic, while Pollock was a little more Norwegian Lutheran and Dutch Presbyterian. But to a stranger, the towns would have appeared to be identical. Nevertheless, they didn’t really mix.
We ranged far and wide for a football or basketball game, traveling to Hoven, Java, and even Ipswich for a game, 93 miles in each direction. And that was in the seventies-as the population in this area fell (and fell some more), school after school consolidated or closed. Even schools which survived intact had to cooperate to field a sports team. Eventually, Pollock and Herreid were the last schools left in the county, with a joint football team called the Campbell County Express. The Express had a great run in the nineties and early oughts. Maybe the towns had finally buried the hatchet?
Sadly, no. As Pollock School’s enrollment fell below 100 students, the threshold for closure, there was talk of combining the two schools. Pollock students would only travel another 16 miles; Herreid, as the only school left in the county, would be protected from closure when and if its enrollment fell below 100. But Herreid wouldn’t agree to take Pollock’s teachers. Pollock wouldn’t agree to have all classes take place in Herreid. Nobody could agree on a name for the consolidated school. In the end, they just couldn’t get it done. Divisions ran too deep.
Pollock combined with Mobridge, a larger town 40+ miles south, to make the Mobridge-Pollock District. Many Pollock students elected to travel to Herreid, instead. But population has continued to fall, and Herreid is hovering at that 100 student level. When the school falls below, it will close, because it’s not the only school district in the county. That will leave a 711 square mile county and a population of 1,600 without a school, all because people valued tribalism over coming together and common sense. Division is dangerous, and division by zero does not compute.